Man in Armour (Siobhan McKenna, Fourth Estate)
Man in Armour is a slice-of-life novel about Charles, a successful cog in the machine of the financial sector who has climbed his way up the corporate ladder to an enormous office, a hefty salary and tables at exclusive restaurants. Over the two-day timeline of the narrative, we learn about Charles’ childhood, his relationships past and present, and his innate aversion to risk when it comes to his career—and the soul-destroying jealousy he feels for those who do take risks. In the novel’s marketing copy, author Siobhan McKenna is referred to as the ‘ultimate business insider’, capable of writing this story with absolute verisimilitude, and she succeeds: the detailed setting of the finance world—the highs and lows, cutthroat practices and relentless pace—is vividly rendered and completely integrated into the internal conflict of the main character. Man in Armour is very readable, however it falls down when its motivations are considered: it’s unclear what McKenna hopes to achieve, what she is trying to say and why we should care. The story covers Charles’ breakdown, from both exhaustion and unaddressed childhood trauma, but he remains an unsympathetic character living an incredibly privileged life. As such, the novel’s faintly happy ending feels less like a triumph and more like the maintenance of a fundamentally unjust status quo.
Kate Cuthbert is program manager at Writers Victoria.